This post was originally published on Revyse.

I entered the multifamily industry for the first time when I joined Realync in 2016. I had just spent more than three years working for a high-growth tech startup in a totally different industry. So I spent much of my first few years seeking to understand the multifamily technology landscape.

The more I learned about the industry as a whole, the more I grew to absolutely love it. The people are amazing, our clients are absolute superheroes, and there is so much opportunity for impact. But the more that I learned about the technology, the more I found myself discouraged by how far behind it was.

At my previous company, more than 95% of our clients used our platform fully integrated with their tech stack. I distinctly remember coming into the office one day, and a lead software engineer had spun up a new integration. Without telling anyone. In one night.

Realync’s clients had hardly heard of the concept of open API’s or “fully integrated” tech stacks. In 2016, we had hundreds of properties using our platform, and we had exactly zero integrations with any other technology. And our clients didn’t seem to care. I even had a client tell me that they didn’t want me to build an integration with their property management system, simply because they feared that the amount of effort required would dominate our product roadmap and would stifle our ability to innovate.

I’m happy to say that today, more than 75% of the properties using Realync are integrated with at least one other platform in their tech stack. But in full transparency, not only is 75% a far cry from 95%, but to say that our integrations qualify as “fully integrated” would be misleading. The integration wish list for this industry’s most innovative vendor partners is constantly growing.

So what’s holding us back from getting our clients to a “fully integrated” state?

The Hurdles

👉 Costly APIs

Spend enough time with your vendor friends, and this is by far the #1 complaint you will hear. And it has only gotten worse in recent years.

If you’re unfamiliar with what an API is, it’s arguably the most common method of integrating one software platform with another. Imagine one software sending an email to another software, with a request like, “Can you send me the list of available units that you have for this specific building?” Or maybe, “Can you add this new prospect to the list of prospects for this property?” Except this communication doesn’t happen via email, it happens in lines of code, in a very controlled environment.

Today, it is not uncommon to see a five-figure price tag for obtaining permission to access the API of some multifamily tech companies. That may not seem like much, but for many companies, that is unjustifiable, and it discourages innovation. And it’s getting worse – some vendors who previously charged nothing for access to their API recently started charging fees, and some who have charged API fees for some time, are now charging even more.

Now, I work for a software company —  I understand that there are costs associated with maintaining an API, offering support to partners utilizing the API, etc. But there are certainly better ways to go about covering these costs than the examples we see in the multifamily industry. To put things into perspective, here are two non-industry examples of companies who approach covering these costs very differently:

  • Salesforce
    • Salesforce makes their API documentation available publicly, and even provides some self-serve resources for developers who want to integrate with their platform – they are encouraging innovation, not stifling it. They don’t charge companies to integrate, unless they opt to join Salesforce’s partner program. But if you join their partner program, which does generate revenue for Salesforce, they will treat you like a client and provide resources to help you grow your business within their ecosystem. After all, if Salesforce’s partners win, they will, too.
  • Reddit
    • Reddit made a splash earlier this year when they introduced API pricing for the first time. The costs come out to roughly $0.00024 per API request. There are multifamily companies charging $1 per API request. That is more than 416,000% higher than Reddit’s. Yes, you read that right. Shortly after Reddit announced this change, angry Reddit users managed to crash the site in protest. Imagine if they took a job with a multifamily tech startup and saw these prices?

👉 Incomplete and inefficient APIs

To be fair, I believe that part of the reason for this industry’s high cost of integration results from the challenges of updating old technology. Think of it like cars – there is some incredible new technology out there, but to retrofit that technology into an older vehicle, which wasn’t designed to work with that technology, is costly and could require cutting some corners.

Many multifamily tech platforms were built without prioritizing integration with other platforms. So even if one of these companies makes an API available (for a small fortune), it often comes with limitations, preventing the API consumer from being able to “fully” integrate with the API provider.

And as the industry’s needs rapidly evolve, as is the case for the multifamily industry over the last half decade, it is nearly impossible for companies with outdated technology to keep pace with updating their own platforms accordingly, let alone keep pace with how their platform interacts within the broader technology landscape.

👉 Lack of knowledge and resources

Software buyers make decisions based on a number of factors, including their own experiences and the information made available to them. The unfortunate reality is that the concept of a fully-integrated tech stack is not something that the average multifamily buyer has ever experienced. So if they are not made aware that a better solution is possible, or if they believe that the ideal solution is not possible in this industry, they all too often settle for buying an inferior, incomplete, or antiquated product, or even doing without the product entirely.

This is a big reason why an industry like multifamily can experience so much rapid change, and yet fall even further behind technologically. If buyers’ decisions do not reflect a demand for more modern solutions, then the less-modern platforms retain their market share and have no incentive to innovate.

This is why we at Realync are so excited about what the team at Revyse is building. This is a platform built by wicked-smart people with years of experience in evaluating, buying, and selling multifamily technology, and they are dead-set on helping improve the buying experience for all parties involved.

For the Operators

If we are to close the technology gaps in this industry, clearly the majority of the responsibility rests on the vendor partners. But operators shouldn’t sit idly by, hoping that vendor partners will eventually sort this out. If you believe that this is important to you and your business, here are some practical ways that you can participate in the effort to moving things forward:

1. Let your vendors know

The reality is, the client’s voice is (or at least should be) the most important voice in the room when discussing an integration. If one party is hesitant to have that conversation, but their client is the one requesting it, they at least owe their client a clear response. That’s your most important role here: to seek clarity from both vendor partners. Push for alignment between all parties regarding feasibility, prioritization, and timing.

Many vendor partners, especially the more established ones, have a formal process for submitting feature requests. If you desire an integration, take advantage of this process whenever possible. And, if there is a way for your colleagues to vote for your feature request, encourage them to consider doing so.

2. Ask the right questions

“I need you to integrate with [Platform B]. We don’t use anything that doesn’t integrate with them.”

I absolutely love this. A buyer who refuses to work with vendor partners who won’t integrate their platform with their tech stack? Let’s be friends. No, seriously – please find me on LinkedIn or in the Revyse Member Community.

But…if you are going to claim that an integration is a requirement in your buying decision, make sure that you can articulate what you need from an integration in order to move forward. Which part(s) of each platform need to work together? And how advanced does the integration need to be?

To help articulate what you need, here are some terms I would recommend, with examples for how we use them here at Realync:

  • Compatible
    • Definition: There are manual ways to make Realync work with Platform B.
    • Realync Example: Realync video links can be copied and pasted into Platform B.
  • Integrated
    • Definition: There is at least one fully-automated process between Realync and Platform B.
    • Realync Example: Realync can automatically send videos to Platform B, without copying/pasting links or downloading/uploading files.
  • Bi-directionally Integrated
    • Definition: There is at least one automated process where data can flow from Realync into Platform B, AND vice versa.
    • Realync Example: Realync can pull prospect info from Platform B into Realync, AND Realync can automatically push prospect activities back into Platform B.
  • Fully-integrated
    • Definition: Realync and Platform B have automated processes between all critical workflows.
    • Realync Example: Realync can pull prospect info from Platform B; Realync can automatically log prospect activities into Platform B; Realync can automatically send videos to Platform B; Platform B can automatically send scheduled live video tours into Realync.

One of the keys to obtaining clarity here is to ask the right questions. If you simply ask, “Do you have a bi-directional integration with [Platform B]”, the vendor partner might answer “yes”. But what if your definition of a “bi-directional integration with [Platform B]” is materially different from theirs?

Instead, ask open-ended questions like, “How do you integrate with [Platform B]?” Better yet, ask highly-specific questions like, “Does your integration with [Platform B] allow my users to automatically [accomplish this]?”

You might discover that your ideal integration doesn’t exist. But it’s better to get that answer as soon as possible, so you can either confidently move forward, or reallocate your time and attention.

3. Consider vendors with open API’s

Buyers should seek to understand a vendor partner’s current integration ecosystem, as well as their “philosophy”of integration. Are they willing to build new integrations with your other vendor partners, or are they only focusing on building their own platform? Do they charge other vendor partners a reasonable cost for using their API, or are they charging API fees that are prohibitive, even crippling?

When evaluating a current or potential vendor partner, don’t simply seek their input on this. Verify the industry’s sentiment toward that vendor partner by looking up reviews, talking to peers, and even consider talking with other vendor partners.

Integration is not the only factor in a buying decision – you may still find yourself needing to work with a vendor partner who doesn’t have the best reputation here. But my hope is that, for the benefit of all parties involved, this is becoming an increasingly-important factor in buying decisions.

If it’s not – we’ll never be able to change the narrative of multifamily being “behind the times.”

For the Vendors

We are firm believers that the only way we arrive at our company goals is by doing right by our clients, bringing as much value to them as possible, and collaborating with their other trusted vendor partners to be part of their “dream team.” Without our clients, we are not in business. That is true regardless of a company’s size or tenure.

There is a palpable difference between companies that operate primarily from a place of gratitude, as opposed to those who operate primarily from a place of pride or entitlement. There is a lot I could say to the vendor partners in this industry who, to many of us, seem to fall into the latter category. But I’ll just leave it at this:

Marketing defines your brand. But the way you treat your clients and partners defines your reputation.

Louder, for the people in the back: The way you treat your clients and partners defines your reputation.

So what does it look like for a vendor partner to contribute positively toward an ecosystem of innovation? Spoiler alert: it’s not as simple as offering a free and open API. Though that wouldn’t hurt 😉

1. Offer a partner-friendly API

In 2023, it’s impossible to help solve your clients’ problems if you operate in a silo. But most industry API’s leave too much value on the table. For companies who don’t have the resources yet, that’s understandable; start where you can. But for companies who do have the resources, here is what it looks like to invest in an API that encourages innovation:

  • If you’re going to charge for an API, do some math to understand the financial impact it will have on integrated partners. Introducing unreasonably-high API costs will likely come across as an attempt to stifle innovation, a money-grab, or both (see: the article above on Reddit’s API fees).
  • Better yet, consider a no-cost option for smaller companies that allows them to grow into a paid plan once they’ve matured. This demonstrates that you do want to encourage innovation.
  • Offer other vendor partners resources and documentation necessary for them to build and maintain an integration with your platform. Things like:
    • test environments
    • a point of contact
    • a formal process for partners to receive support
  • Regularly invite both clients and partners to evaluate whether your API is modern enough to keep up with industry trends, and to understand where there are gaps that can be filled.
  • Develop a partner program, where you proactively introduce integrated platforms to your clients, helping those partners grow their businesses within your ecosystem.

2. Just be real with your prospects, clients, and partners

Don’t oversell how advanced your integrations are, and certainly don’t promise that your platform integrates with another vendor partner’s, unless you already do or at least plan to make it happen. Being real is not just the right thing to do, but it also builds trust.

Remember: the way you treat your clients and partners defines your reputation.

3.Network with other vendor partners

Being a vendor partner in this industry can at once be incredibly fun and awfully frustrating. Sometimes you just need a shoulder to cry on from someone who gets it.

But seriously – establishing relationships with other vendor partners in this industry has been critical to what we are building here at Realync. Here are some peer-to-peer conversations that have had direct impact on how we’re doing things here at Realync:

  • Making integrations happen
    • It can take time to convince another vendor partner to sit down and talk about an integration. It can take less time if you regularly engage with them and seek to learn about what they’re building.
  • Collaboration for field marketing
    • Speaking of crying – we’ve all cried ourselves to sleep at least once looking at the final costs from some of these industry conferences…right? That’s why we love to get creative with other vendor partners to lower costs and increase ROI on field marketing efforts.
  • Best practices around specific integrations
    • When looking at integrating with a platform, there can be a million ways to go about it. Talking to partners who have already crossed that bridge has saved us countless hours of research.
  • Warm introductions
    • Word-of-mouth marketing is a beautiful thing. When one of our partners makes an introduction to a client who wants to learn more about Realync, those conversations are so much easier and more enjoyable for all parties involved.

4. Invest in a Partnerships function

You could just sit back and expect your clients to bring ideas (or complaints) to you. But dedicating resources to a Partnerships function will ensure that you can better understand your client’s tech stack, how they are using your platform within that tech stack, and how you can help them get the most value out of their investments.

When clients see that you aren’t just pushing your software, but you are making an effort to become a valuable advisor and that you are collaborating with their other vendor partners, good things happen.

For instance, here at Realync, clients who utilize at least one of our integrations see an increase in usage of about 13%, and are about 20% more likely to renew. That’s definitely not nothing.

We can do this

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing things like “here’s what multifamily can learn from this other industry”. Yes, we should always look to challenge the status quo. But those statements are nearly always rooted in the belief that we are behind that other industry, and probably always will be.

But we believe that this industry is filled with far too many wicked-smart people to settle for that fate.

If you agree, then let’s #freetheMFdata.